Monday, February 28, 2011

The To Do List: Pasta

Remember the To-Do List? I bet you don't! I wrote a post about the To-Do List back when I had fewer than 20 RSS subscribers. I might have even written that post before I set up my RSS feed!

I am not sure why it took me so long to try making pasta. I grew up eating only homemade pasta. Every few weeks my father would bust out the pasta machine, roll out long strips of dough and turn flour into a meal. But I have never made pasta at home. I think my hesitance to make pasta at home is because I thought I had to have a pasta maker. I felt that some heavy, silvery set of gears that can be vice gripped to the counter top was integral to the process of making pasta. And indeed it is, for some people. But I have no room for bulky machinery. I barely even use my stand mixer because I don't have enough counter space to keep it out, it must stay locked away in the pantry. Then I read this interesting blog post. And I suddenly realized that one could make pasta at home without another piece of one use wonder equipment! Life has opened up to me!
I quickly emailed my father for his recipe. He said he started with 2 cups of flour and four eggs and about a tablespoon of olive oil. So I started there, with a trusted family recipe. Only I made some slight alterations--because you wouldn't expect anything less from me! No really, it is not that bad this time. I just made it different by using whole wheat flour, something my dad never does. I used 100% white whole wheat flour. I remember watching Mario Batali making pasta, and he always made the flour into a pile, and carved out a well. I cracked my eggs in, one, two and three--whoops! My third egg spilled over the wall of my well an all over my counter. Eggs look so solid when they are cracked into a bowl. But they run like water when they have nothing to contain them. Rats! I scooped the egg back into the messy flour. The recipe called for 4 eggs. But I figured that 3 eggs would just make a slightly smaller batch. Plus I was using extra large eggs. I hate that everything seems bigger than natural in the US (even though I love my country--have I mentioned that?). I never trust foods in bigger forms. But recently I discovered that my recipes were just coming out better when I used extra large eggs. I don't know why, but it works on everything from muffins to custards.
Once I got the egg scooped back into the flour, I added some oil and went to town. You want pasta to have some tooth. So I kneaded the dough to develop the gluten. But pasta dough is not like pizza dough. It is thicker and tougher. I continued to add flour until the dough was no longer sticky. I took my ball of dough and broke it into 4 smaller pieces. And then I rolled each piece out in turn. It took significant upper body strength to get each piece of dough to roll out thin enough. But that works out well for me because I haven't hit a real gym in like 7 or 8 years. And I am looking for some compelling upper body workouts that center around my interests. No pain no gain right??
After I got each sheet rolled out I rolled it into a flat packet. And I used a serrated bread knife to cut the roll-up into thin strips. I first tried just a serrated steak knife--But don't do it. The force is better distributed in a longer serrated knife. My strips were smaller and straighter and overall better looking after I switched.
Then, because I have no pasta rack, I dried the strips on a cutting board. I just let them hang out on the board for a couple hours. But then I got freaked out about the raw eggs even though that seemed counter intuitive, and my father has let every batch of pasta air dry for years and years. And I did get the recipe from him! Oh well. I put all the semi dry noodles into a plastic bag and parked them into the fridge.
Make no mistake. These are not your restaurant angel hair noodles. These noodles are thick and not altogether straight. They are brown from the wheat germ, and they felt heavy and toothy.

We didn't eat them right away. We had other wheat dinners and I have this thing about not eating pasta too often. I try to space it out over the course of a week. And I don't think we have ever had pasta more than twice in one week. Not because I am bragging about that. I am a little nuts about the wheat and grains. But I have to explain why I didn't have this post up sooner! Last week it was imperative that I make my friend D a lasagna because she had a baby. Yay! Congrats! And if you are going to the trouble to make one lasagna, you really ought to make two. So we had already made pasta for dinner on Monday, plus leftovers. It was Friday before I was read to have pasta again. And even that I felt like was too many nights eating pasta for dinner. But I took one for the team.

I usually have some frozen spaghetti sauce put up for a weeknight meal. So I brought out my last batch and took out my homemade pasta. It was ugly stuff. A week of drying out in the fridge took it's toll on my precious strippy strips. Then it hit me. I had no idea how much pasta I had made. I usually buy 12 oz boxes of pasta and I know my family will eat about 8-9 ounces, so not quite one package, two-thirds if I don't want any leftovers. But here I had this ziploc bag of homemade pasta, how much should I make??

I brought out the old Weight Watchers scale and laid a plate on top. I measured out 9 ounces of pasta. Judging by what was left I think I made about 11 or 12 ounces of pasta. 9 ounces didn't look like enough. But scales don't lie.
My pasta looked so ragged and handmade (not in the good way). I was scared that it would crumble and fall apart in the water. Some strips had already broken into shorter pieces as I was drying and bagging them. I threw it in the pot and held my breath. I usually boil pasta for 10-12 minutes. I did the same with these bad boys. They did not break, they lolled gently in the water. I tried one to test it, gave them another 2 minutes and drained. Only because they were so thick, the noodles were rather al dente. Too bad I didn't realize this until after I was eating them at the dinner table covered in sauce. Oh well, better luck next time.
The kids adore pasta. And the transition to whole wheat pasta has been far easier than expected. A year ago I swore that I just couldn't do whole wheat pasta. I had tried it, I hated the flavor AND the texture, and that I could do healthy whole grains everywhere else but pasta. Then when we started the blog I started buying only whole grain pasta. Strangely, no one minded. DH didn't bitch at me about the grainy texture. And while the kids definitely looked at me liked I was keeping a secret from them, they ate it. And now they don't know any different. I was also pleased how well they took the next leap from store bought to homemade. Given the difference in my wild free form pasta from the eggless, perfectly extruded stuff they are used to, I was shocked that everyone cleaned their plate. The pasta was really really good. very tasty. But it was anything but soft.

For next time: I will use a little more olive oil to give the dough some conditioning. I will also try and roll the sheets a little thinner before cutting the strips. That's easier said than done because rolling out the sheets was, like I mentioned, like doing upper body work at the gym, but one must strive for perfection. I will also cut the strips thinner. Because if I can only make the sheets so thin with a rolling pin, I can reduce necessary cooking time by making say, linguine rather than fettuccine or tagliatelle. I don't even know what I did. Some of my strips were tagliatelle, some were like lasagna noodles (just kidding).
I will also try and make this pasta in larger batches. No joke, it was quick. It took me about 45 minutes from when the first pile of flour hit the counter to when I was cleaned up and the noodles were drying. But I don't really want to have to do that every week. Once a month would be more doable on my schedule. Maybe this will be a good opportunity to commit to eating pasta less? I like that my pasta has many eggs in it. So it is higher in protein than the store bought stuff. But it is still a grain based meal, very filling and lower in protein. While we ate alot of pasta last week, we usually have it only once a week. Perhaps now I could try and get down to once every other week? It is a thought. I am not opposed to grains in a general sense. But while I know that they have their place in my diet (I really do feel better and more energetic when I eat some every day), grains like to take over. They can be addictive. I have to keep them in their place, so to speak.

And finally, let me say that I am proud of this experience. While we are getting really comfortable finding what 'real food' options work for us on a busy working parent schedule, I love challenging one more convenience food. I can now take flour and eggs and turn it into pasta. Take THAT food industry. That's one more thing I don't need you for!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

There is No February 29th This Year

Sorry for the two tasty previews. There is, apparently, no 2/29/11 this year. And when you type in an invalid date, Blogger simply publishes your post. Nice, right?

So sorry for letting the cat out of the bag. Hope you will come back and enjoy that post on 3/1. Since there is a 3/1 this year (and every year).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Splenda is Getting into Pediatrics!

Last week a friend at work told me about a friend who was just in her pediatrician's office. This friend has been reading The Table of Promise practically since inception! (Thank you!) When she went into her Ped's office, she noticed a flyer regarding childhood obesity, a growing problem of grave concern. The flyer said "More and more children are gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. Children who gain too much weight are more likely to have health problems when they get older. They are also more likely to be overweight as adults. What's the goal for overweight children? The goal is for overweight children to slow down the rate of weight gain. This gives their bodies a chance to catch up with their weight as the grow. Doctors want children to get to and maintain a healthy weight."

Apparently, the flyer says that parents can make two simple changes, cut 100 calories from your child's daily diet and add 2,000 steps. I am all for adding steps. But food is the biggest factor in wieght gain, no matter how much you excercise. And the flyer suggests that part of the way one can reduce calories is to replace sugar with splenda. Me, I say preposterous. The flyer also directs patients to go to the splenda website, which I of course did. They have a whole section on simple changes. I am also all for reducing calories. But isn't it easier to switch to plain yogurt rather than one sweetened with splenda? Or ELIMINATE a snack rather than choosing a lower calorie one?

I am not in favor of fake sweeteners and sugar substitutes. There is significant evidence that they trick the body. The sweet taste prepares the digestive system into believing that it will be soon working on digesting lots of calories. Then like an out of work union, when no calories arrive in your tummy your digestive system lobbies for more work. Your body demands that you eat more since you gyped it out of once promised calories. Not to mention the problems with aspartame, and the problems with a new sweetner neotame. I don't see the same smoking guns for splenda (sucralose) or xylitol based off what I have googled on the internet, but they are chemicals none the less, and I don't to eat them. And the tricks they play on our body are the same.

But the idea that splenda is now infiltrating pediatricians' office in the hopes of plugging their product to overweight kids and desperate parents across the country. I say WRONG WRONG WRONG! Doctors should be prescribing real food to their patients, period. And we parents need to stand up to our kids. We are in charge. If you don't want your kid to eat crap, don't give it to them.

This post is entered in Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays and Real Food Whole Health's Blog Carnival!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kombucha, For Real This Time

This SHOULD have been the Kombucha post that I posted last November. This SHOULD have been the only post I ever wrote about Kombucha. But the story took a weird, gross and kind of moldy turn after I so positively wrote about kombucha a few short months ago.

My first batch of kombucha tasted right. It was finished around New Years. But once bottled, my booch never carbonated. Curious.

Then my second batch molded. Fail

Then my third batch looked promising. A slight film developed on top. I waited patiently for this film to turn into a proper scoby. Oh the eager awaiting!!! After a week I noticed two small white spots. S#!t!! I fished out what was probably mold. I held my breath for another 2 weeks. No mold came back. I thought I was in the clear.

Then, after another few days, I saw something I thought looked right, a little pinkish ball forming on the side. It had a little arm that reached down into the tea. Here we go I thought. My first scoby!! The next day I noticed about a dozen small spots forming on the top. More mushrooms? Or mold? I wasn’t sure. I figured all would be revealed to me. After a couple days there was no fuzz growing off the spots so I thought they probably weren’t mold. But the strangest thing happened. The white spots had kind of attracted to one another like little funky magnets. Now instead of spread all over the top they were lined up like some kind of creepy firing line. My first reaction was to shudder a little. But I still wasn’t sure that it was mold. It wasn’t fuzzy. The booch still smelled right, like fruity fermenting sweetness. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drink this stuff.

A month or so ago a friend at work who reads the blog was laughing at me about my struggles with my moldy kombucha (in a nice way, you know). She suggested I call M because she said she had gotten her scoby from M. But I had never met M. I didn’t work with M in any capacity. It might be weird to call him out of the blue. So while I filed the suggestion in my brain, I wasn’t sure I would call him.

But I changed my mind when I saw a microscopic army forming in my kombucha. Was this army with me or against me? I picked up the phone and dialed M's desk. “You don’t know me”, I said “But I am C and I work in the New York Office. Someone told me you brew kombucha and I really need help.” He chuckled and told me that he had been brewing booch for over 10 years. I told him my woes, and he told me unequivocally-pitch my batch. It was likely mold. We talked about kombucha and fermentation for over 30 minutes. It was a slow day—I still got all my work done I PROMISE!! Then he kindly said that he would send me a scoby from his batch, which had never had mold. WooHoo! I had hit the jackpot! A few days later he emailed me to say that he had sent the scoby wrapped in plastic baggies and some paper, and then he put it in one of those standard issue yellow envelopes. And he popped that sucker through interoffice mail. Hahaha!

That’s right. My scoby took a trip through the UPS system and wound up on my desk the next afternoon. A healthy scoby should be thick and pinkish-brownish and have a faint vinegary smell. I held the envelope rather than slipping it in my work bag. My whole subway ride home I felt it through the paper. I imagined it warming from my touch. This thing really is alive I thought. I almost felt like I was adopting a pet, this scoby seemed to have its own aura. Perhaps I am over exaggerating. But I was so appreciative that M had taken the time to send it to me. I wanted my relationship with my kombucha to be positive from the get go.

I went home and tenderly unpacked it and washed it (took a picture). It was a half an inch thick, rubbery feeling and almost twice the diameter of the dehydrated scoby that I had bought online. My previous scoby was about 3 inches in diameter, whitish and about the thickness of 4-5 sheets of paper stacked together. I knew looking at my new friend that my days of worrying about my kombucha were over. I slipped it into a gallon of prepared sweet tea. Our relationship had begun. My moldy woes were over.
I get it now. You can’t buy a scoby online from a company. Kombucha is a living thing; it wants to build a relationship with you. And when you are starting out, you will have questions. If you don’t have someone to call you could drink moldy tea or get very sick. This kombucha is about relationships, between you and your scoby and you and your booch-mentor. I am pleased that M is my booch-mentor. He knows the lineage of my batch and he will be helpful should I have any questions. He knows how long this family of scobies takes to brew a batch and also had some helpful tips on prepping the tea.

Here are my OFFICIAL kombucha preparation instructions, as given to me by M.

1) Wash out your vessel with soap and hot water!! Make sure you start out with a clean glass gallon jar, be sure to wash off all the soap. Openings of 3 inches in diameter are good for easily getting your scoby in and out.
2) In a Dutch oven bring a gallon of water up to a boil. Boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes to kill anything that might be in there.
3) Add one cup of organic sugar and boil until dissolved.
4) Turn off the heat and add 8 organic tea bags. Let stand for 30 minutes.
5) Let the batch cool for 10-12 hours. I poured my sweet tea into my completely clean glass jar to cool while I was at the office. But M said he lets his stand in his pot with the lid on the stove.
6) When it is totally cool and in the glass jar, add about 2-3 cups of prepared kombucha (I used a bottle of GT’s for my first batch), and float your scoby in there.
7) Let it brew, 10 days to 2 weeks. Taste the batch to see when you are happy with the sweet and sour balance.
8) Bottle in glass bottles with either a Grolsh style top, or I plan on using old cleaned out GTs bottle because the caps are sturdy and they close.
9) Come back here in 2 weeks and I will have more experience to talk about the second fermentation….

I am at peace. And finally I trust my booch. Thanks M!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Derailed by a Chip

I did everything right. I made a list. I stayed away from the packaged food isles. I ate before I shopped. I even went to the farmer’s market FIRST so that I could get as many local items as possible. But yet, once I spied the bag it was all over. Game over.

I was derailed. By a tortilla chip.

I stopped buying potato chips when I learned that polyunsaturated fats can degrade into trans fats and free radicals when heated to high temperatures. Since our government subsidies such oils they are by far the cheapest oils for commercial companies to use to fry. Since I haven’t found a company frying chips in coconut oil or beef tallow, I have just stopped buying them. We only really ate chips during lunch on the weekend anyway. They were always a treat. Now we have a salad or a homemade soup with our sandwiches for lunch. That is far more nutritious anyhow.

Last weekend I took both Things to the grocery store and farmer’s market to give DH the morning off. I don’t know if my weakness came from having both kids or something else. But when I walked by a display of store made tortilla chips it was all over. The bag was plastic lined paper. Probably BPA was in the liner. Fairway had taken the time to actually take corn tortillas and fry them. This was no Tostitos corn mash commercial chip. The chips were thick and sprinkled with what looked like kosher salt. Likely an over processed salt. The label indicated that these golden triangles had been fried in vegetable oil, which is code for soybean oil. As I have done more digging I have realized that because corn oil can be turned into ethanol, it is no longer profitable to sell that as food. I originally thought ethanol would be a great solution to our domestic oil problem. Though now that I have learned that it takes as much if not more fossil fuels to MAKE ethanol, I am left at square one. Think about, the machinery that is used to make ethanol has to be powered by something… Ethanol is now, thanks to government regulations and subsidies, a huge source of profits to corn processors (not corn farmers). So don’t expect it in your veggie oil anymore.

Add to that the bleached over processed salt and the overwhelming likelihood that the corn was genetically modified, and you start to see the drama that played out in my head over this seemingly 3 ingredient food. Lookie Ma! It passes the 5 ingredient rule.

But there are moments of weakness in every life. I bought the chips because I had a particularly good batch of leftover farmer’s market turkey chili back at the house. How good would these politically problematic chips on my sustainably made chili? Is anyone catching all the irony here?

Well they were delicious. They were thick and salty and crunchy. My mouth is watering even a week later describing it. The Things had some too. And they acted like they had hit the jackpot. I think Thing 2 has had less than 15 chips in his short life. And it has been so long since I kept chips in the house that Thing 1 has forgotten than we ever did. It has been long enough now that even DH doesn’t whine for them any longer. But everyone enjoyed the results of my moment of weakness.

It’d be great if that was where the story ended. If that was the whole story, it probably wouldn’t be blog worthy. Big Whoop. I broke down and fell off the wagon. That first day we all enjoyed A FEW chips at lunch. Then later, thinking no one was looking I snuck some more. But I got caught. Because he saw me eating chips in between meals, Thing 1 asked for some. I can’t be a hypocrite. So I had to share. So now I was eating a food I didn’t approve of, feeding it to my kids, and now gorging on it. And yet again, after dinner when the kids were in bed, I snuck some more. What am I? A closet chip-a-holic?

We ate a few more on Sunday. And fortunately I didn’t think about them again until Tuesday night. After dinner Tuesday I was feeling munchy again and my thoughts turned to the nefarious chips. I went to the pantry where I expected a half a bag to still be located. And to my amazement!!!! There were 6 chips left!! What? I hadn’t eaten any of them in two days! I hadn’t used them with any meals for the kids. But it seems that my babysitter had! For two days it is likely that my kids were eating conventionally processed chips with lunch but also as a snack. Awesome right?

It was one bag of chips. It was an itch that I had to scratch. Sometimes you gotta scratch. But what I became more concerned over in the end was my inability to regulate my eating of the chips. They were there and they were talking to me, pleading with me, begging me to eat them. Moderation? *Fail* People in general have issues sticking with moderation. Which is why I get frustrated when anyone says that any food should be eaten in moderation. What does that mean? Is moderation eating such a food once a month? Once a week? Once a day? Moderation may mean something different to all of us. For me, in the case of chips, it means going overboard once every six months or once a year. Everyone deals with being deprived of a favorite something differently. Overall I know I eat well, so I am not sweating this occurrence. It will not likely make a huge dent in our health. But if I was less able to manage my unhealthy food desires, it might make a difference.

So I have a neat checklist to banish temptation. People love lists, and I imagine my blog readers are no different. If you have trouble with moderation in food related manners, here are some guidelines that have worked for me.

* Eat more at home. I have much trouble controlling my choices when I am at a restaurant.
* Eat a healthy meal before going to the grocery store. Feeling both full and good about what you have just eaten will help you make better choices when you are at the point of sale.
* Make a list. Duh.
* Don’t waste time crying over a transgression. You will need to eat again in 4-5 hours (or maybe less). Focus on doing better next time rather than beating yourself up over a bad choice.
* If you make it from scratch even ‘bad for you food’ is not as bad as most prepared versions. But that goes back to the first point—Eat more at home.
* Enjoy your food. Good food fills us up and makes us whole. Enjoy it. Life is too short.

May you control your food cravings better than me!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Making Homemade Coconut Milk

I love to cook, that’s no secret. I enjoy cooking things that can be a challenge or that might be cheaper to buy readymade. But I am not a huge fan of complicated recipes with a hundred different ingredients. I like straightforward food.

I am not sure why I wanted to make coconut milk. I could have just as well bought a can and cracked it open. But that’s not my style. I want to know how it got in that can to begin with. It started with this beautiful post about making your own coconut milk from The Nourished Kitchen. Jenny makes everything looks rustic and beautiful. You can’t help but want to cook everything she blogs about.

But—one big caveat, I had no intentions of buying whole coconuts. Oh No—I have been down that road of heart ache before. One year on a family trip to Florida we bought a coconut for the heck of it. It was practically local! But after hammering and pounding and even putting a nail in the eyes, the thing wouldn’t budge. I think at least one person got a fat thumb from that unwilling coconut. No, my grocery store often sells coconuts cleaned and packaged. Probably not what you wanted to read about—you like my exploits of cooking that involve hammers and fat thumbs, but this will not be one of those. Sorry to those that feel I cut too many corners on this one. Hammers and kids under 4 don't mix too well.

I bought two containers of prepared coconuts (shell removed and skin partially removed). Each container was approximately $2.50. Jenny’s recipe calls for simply water and coconuts. I can totally handle this! Thing 1 was eager to help me make the coconut milk. He doesn’t nap anymore. He has gone through several napless phases. But about 2 weeks ago we noticed that on days when he would nap, he would have a very hard time going to bed that night. After a couple of days of trading nighttime peace for daytime peace, we got with it and called off the naps. So while Thing 2 rests, Thing 1 cooks or runs errands with mommy. And guess what DH does?? Haha, poor baby. He needs that nap or else he’d be a grump. Aren’t I a good wife?

My blender is only big enough to process one coconut at a time. The recipe calls for two coconuts and their coconut water (Oops! Prepared coconuts don’t come with water) and 3-4 cups of hot water. I brought a pan of water up to a boil and processed each coconut in the blender with 2 cups of water. I let Thing 1 press all the blender buttons which was thrilling for him. And when we were all done we had a big bowl full of coconutty slurry.

In batches, we passed the slurry through a strainer and saved the pulp. We placed the pulp into a muslin like cloth.

This is the same thin old burp cloth that I have referred to in other recipes requiring something like cheesecloth. I mean, if it ain’t broke! If I had this all to do over again I would have just strained it through the cloth instead of using a strainer. The strainer was actually pretty messy and we made a lot more messy dishes that way. But once the pulp was in the cloth I let Thing 1 squeeze away.

Then I poured our finished coconut milk into two cleaned and prepared kombucha bottles that happened to be lying around (because I have yet to produce a successful batch of kombucha). Those GT’s bottles are so awesome. And there are so many uses, the caps get so tight. I am glad that I have a dozen or so lying around the house.

After the milk was finished then I placed the spent pulp onto a foil lined pan and baked it in my oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. I would have baked it longer, but I had had to go downstairs and fold 4 loads of laundry. Have I mentioned that I am a good wife? After it cooled I placed it in a small Tupperware and kept it in the fridge because it was still a little wet and I didn’t want it to get moldy.

I was so proud of my efforts that I was on pins and needles as to what to make with my delicious looking coconut milk!! And of course the first thing that came to mind? Pina Coladas. I am a once big fan of those slushy alcoholic sugar bombs that can be found in places like TGIFriday’s and crummy beach bars. No doubt the mixes are made with loads of HFCS and preservatives and pineapple and coconut flavoring. While I won’t have one of those again, I still have some fond memories of those more ignorant times in my life. And wow those things were awesome. I thought I would try making a little colada with my coconut milk. I had nothing to lose!

I took one cup of chunk pineapple that I froze and 2 cups of the coconut milk and one tablespoon of rapadura and I put them into my immersion blender. The result was pretty good. But I should have known about buying out of season pineapple. Will one of the local food gurus please come over to my house and slap my hand? I deserve it. Anyway, the kids really liked them. I made one for myself. Though sadly, they remained virgin. I thought about getting rum for it (It would have tasted a whole lot better!). But I never went out to get it. Next time I will wait for sweeter pineapple, but I still might add a touch more sugar or use honey. And I will definitely add rum. The liquor store does, after all, deliver. There is no excuse next time.

I still have one bottle, about two cups of coconut milk, left. The sky is the limit! I could use it for a good curry, or even better—a lactose free-almond crust-coconut cream pie. If I can get around to cooking it this weekend I will surely let you know about it!

This post is part of Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food Whole Health and Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Winter CSA Share #4

Saturday we got our fourth and final Winter CSA share. And what a share! This was probably my favorite of all of them. In the sturdy box we got one large bag of spinach (spinach!!!) and chard leaves, 7 or 8 apples (I don't remember), one bulb of celeriac, one fat butternut squash, a bag of dried dill, a netted bag of potatoes, a bag of beets that I won't be eating, sweet potatoes and onions, a half gallon of cider, a bag of carrots and a miraculous bag of dried black beans and dried hot chilies! WooHoo!
The beans did it for me. I struggle to make our CSA veggies into anything other than side dishes. I probably don't work hard enough. But I love the beans because they really are a main course. I cannot wait to eat them. Even if the kids might not...or won't.
I am so sad to see the CSA go. It will be late in June before we have more deliveries, and of course, we will have to pay for it all in between now and then. But for now we will munch on our beans and put spinach on everything. Bye Bye CSA!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 243, Uhhh, 265..Day I'm Not Even Sure Anymore

Apparently I am a week late, actually a full ten days after my 'due date'. I began this blog on May 4th, 2010. And from the beginning I noticed that the process of going from frozen pizza to kale has felt like a pregnancy. In pregnancy you conceive your child and spend your first trimester thinking how weird it is being pregnant. You aren't really a mother yet, but you are preparing. You think about what kind of mommy you want to be, how much you are willing to change your life. Will you quit your job and stay home? Will you hire a nanny or look at daycares? Or will you only consider that one family member who you trust? You are forced to make some changes, you can't drink, you are so tired that you can't stay up late. But to the outside world you are little different.

My first three months writing this blog were much the same. I made some big changes. I promised to stop buying meat in the grocery store, only from my CSA. I also said no more pre made dinners like frozen pizza. And every product purchased from the grocery store had to be put under a bright spotlight. I eliminated whole product categories, got rid of maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, TBHQ, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, food dyes, and other highly processed or non food additives. And we pledged to cook every day, no more prepared dinners. And we pledged veggies every day, even for the kids. These were big changes. But at the same time they were the low hanging fruit. We immediately saw an improvement in everyone's occasional constipation. And our cravings for junk subsided.

Your second trimester is a wonderful time. You aren't sick anymore and you are starting to show. You look cute, you have gained a little weight but you don't feel so ridiculously fat yet. You start to wear maternity clothes and it gets fun! You can start telling people your big news! The baby starts to kick and things to start to feel real. The second trimester of our blog project was also equally as sweet. I discovered the Real Food movement. Here were a group of people who had successfully balanced a non processed diet, but embraced fats and meat which the dietitian crowd always want you to believe will send you straight to food hell. This felt like what I was supposed to be eating, more raw foods, soaked beans and grains, non-industrial meats and fermented vegetables.

I had independently come to the conclusion that fat wasn't my problem. I had lost weight after Thing 1 was born and I was eating MORE fat than when I was chubby. The ideology of the Real and Traditional Food people jived with what I was experiencing in my own body. And I believe that they have their science right. Fat isn't the problem, carbs aren't the problem, meat isn't even the problem. It is the junk. It is the empty calories, devoid of real nutrition. The only problem? There is alot more nutritionally devoid food out there than I first thought. Exploring Real Food in the second trimester of writing my blog was fun. The ideas were new, I had never fermented vegetables before! It was delicious and the reading was paradigm shifting. I read that fat, especially butter and coconut oil were good for you! I read that grains had natural proteins in them that inhibit digestion but that sprouting grains changes their chemical structure. I read about polyunsaturated oils, and the theory that high heat oxidates the oil molecule, essentially converting them to trans fat. These were BIG ideas, game changers. My second trimester was truly life altering.

I have born two children, so I know how difficult the third trimester can be. The third trimester feels as long as the first two combined. You are so swollen and fat (and I am NOT interested in hearing about how good you looked all through your pregnancies, give me your fat sweaty girls who couldn't wear their rings for the last 6 weeks-that was me), your body aches from all the extra weight. You can't sleep, you can hardly eat anymore. It is kind of miserable. But at the same time it is very exciting, it is the trimester of baby showers and buying baby clothes and strollers. Furniture is procured and rooms are decorated. There are really sweet moments in preparation for this very real baby that will arrive shortly. The third trimester is a time of up and down emotions.

I thought for sure that my experience writing this blog in months 6-9 would not mirror pregnancy quite as closely as the first sic months. I figured the metaphor would only go so far. But I was wrong. The last three months have indeed been like a third trimester. I have thought deeper about the political implications about food. I have fallen into a rut of preparing the same dinners over and over again. There have been days where this blog felt like a burden when it was added on top of my job and family. There were times I didn't want to write, there were times I really wanted to eat McDonald's. Yup that's right, sticking to my rules were not always so easy. Salt and sugar are powerful adversaries But I did it. I walked by McDonald's and I posted 5 days a week. I did it because I wanted to stick to it. I did it out of sheer stubbornness. And I made it through my third trimester.

Today I am giving birth, in a way. I am not stopping this blog. I have found far too much joy in writing it and I have made too many new friends to walk away now. I have mentioned that my goal was to write a book in 2011. Well last week I finished the first draft of my book proposal. But I have lots more work to do. The proposal needs to be rewritten, and Ha, I need to actually write! There is such a thing as a fourth trimester. I firmly believe that the first three months of a baby's life is the true fourth trimester. A baby does little if any interaction in the first three months. But marvelously around three months of age a baby wakes up and begins to act a little more like a baby!

I am planning on writing my book in the coming three months. I still plan on posting, but maybe two or three times a week instead of five or six times a week. Is that okay? I feel like not posting everyday would be a total let down to all you fabulous people who read me every day! I have visions of better posts with more pictures, quality rather than quantity. But mostly I really want to make time to write a book. And I want to say, I have no idea that anyone will ever want to read it, much less publish it. So my efforts on this project are all for myself. Writing a book is something I have always wanted to do before I die. So if I can do that, I am not sure if I care if it ever goes anywhere, though that would be a huge coup. But hopefully YOU will want to read it.

And don't forget!! We need to plan our march on Washington! Oh What? You think I forgot??? No chance. I am thinking November 2012.....

So that is how I am giving birth today.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thank You for the Parenting Advice

I had to say Thank You to all of those who read my post The Epic Battle for Ultimate Control: Age Three

I got more comments on that than maybe any other post I have ever written. I loved the idea of one on one time. I also LOVED the idea that I am asking the kids too many times before I whip out the 'time out'. I tried it out this weekend, not asking for compliance more than twice and giving out time outs when I saw misbehavior or refusal to participate. The time outs got easier, the misbehavior cleaned up. Overall I think Thing 1 got the message that he had to get with it. And I haven't yelled, well maybe I have said like two things loudly. But NOTHING like the mess we were in a week ago.

In the last week you all have given me some very good advice. You have also given me alot of support. I was pleasantly surprised by how many of you admitted to yelling at your kids in much the same way I did. It made me feel less alone. I got emails from more parents saying they were in the same boat. And many parents like myself believed that the yelling works sometimes. It just goes to show you that no two kids are the same, nor are any two parents.

So here I am saying thank you!! I NEVER want to wish the time with my kids away (ever!) but here's to age four!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Green Eggs and Goat Cheese

I make Green Eggs for Thing 2 once a week or so. He really likes them but Thing 1 won't touch them. He is not mad about eggs never mind that these eggs are green. Recently I whipped up a batch of some Green Eggs. But I wasn't in the mood for them just plain. So I made mine into a rather unattractive omelet. They stuck to the pan.

When I flipped the omelet, I added some goat cheese to the middle and folded it over and let it melt. Yuuuuummmm. This is a nice reminder of all the possibilities that breakfast offers us.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cleaning my Bathroom with Vinegar and Baking Soda

I have changed my dish soap, my skin care products and laundry detergent to brands like Seventh Generation that use more conventional ingredients. But until recently we hadn't made alot of changes to our other household cleaning products. I have used Windex and Soft Scrub since back when I still lived with my mother.

A few weeks ago I tried something, for no reason other than I was curious. I sprinkled some baking soda into my bathtub, sink and toilet. Then I poured a little vinegar into each one in turn. I used the slurry with a sponge and scrubbed away. There were no harsh fumes, no chemicals to be worried about getting on my kids skins. There was no film or residue. In fact the mixture was so easy to use and clean away. And the vinegar made the chrome of my faucet shine like it never had!! Though I have a disclaimer about that. I have a new bathroom sink fixture, new like 2009. Some of the bathtub fixtures, like the overflow drain in the tub, are original from when the building was built in the fifties. The vinegar gets that drain nicely clean but the thing is 60 years old, it doesn't shine.

I have used the vinegar and baking soda combo for about a month and I don't think I am going back to Soft Scrub. The mix works on my tiles too which get so yucky from soap and shampoo. I thought I would always have to use that toxic smelling Dow Bathroom Cleaner. I am really happy with this. I don't have to be worried about what I am pouring down the drain as cleaner runoff can mingle with the water supply. And the ingredients are not antibacterial. Antibacterial ingredients, I believe, have contributed to the creation of super bugs. Because that .01% of the bacteria that are left in Lysol's wake are the strongest most aggressive bacteria. And it doesn't take a scientist to realize what happens next. These super strong bacteria now have no microscopic competition and can grow unchecked. Besides, their offspring can easily mutate into resistent varieties. If you have never heard of MRSA, read here. I love my friendly bacteria, and most of them are friendly. So I don't buy antibacterial anything, not even Purell. We just wash hands with water and soap. I figure our immune systems will be stronger for it.

If you are curious like me, try this cleaner. You might be surprised by the results and lack of filmy residue. And most likely you have got this stuff in your pantry already. WooHoo! I love cheap solutions that work!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Epic Battle for Ultimate Control: Age Three

Tiger Mom has ignited a heated battle in American parenting. I have discussed Tiger Mom with many of my colleagues, my friends, and even my Chinese American boss-who incidentally was raised in the very same manner. I have even dropped some pretty long and anonymous comments on a blog that came down hard on Tiger Mom. And while I do think that Tiger Mom goes too far in pursuit of her own narrow view of successful children, there is something to her. She has a discipline that most do not. And her nonacceptance of permissive Western parenting methods is probably finding more support than she suspected. On one hand Chua says and does hateful things in the name of motivating her children. On the other hand I am an old fashioned parent, I am in charge, expect to be obeyed and will accept no alteration to that model. But I am internally conflicted about it, because it is so much harder than it seems.

I am stuck in a parenting rut. And we are experiencing some major behavioral problems. It is official, I hate age three more than age two. My three year old is showing to me my own character flaws. And I can't decide what I dislike worse, the out of control behavior, the yelling or the fact that I am not in control in my own home.

I am a yeller. I always have been. I was born yelling and I continued to be a screamer throughout childhood. I have been told to shut up more times than I can remember. And even at work an 'area of development' on my yearly review has been to speak more quietly. My biggest problem is just that I have a really loud voice. My breath is connected to my voice all the way down to my toes and I can project my speech across a full crowded theatre. I am not bragging, it is just fact. Add to that several years of acting and speech training to actually exploit and develop this characteristic and you can see I am in a bind. I am an adult working in a quiet office cubicle setting with a set of pipes that has been trained for a three tiered full house.

But back to parenting, my lungs help in making me a force to be reckoned with in my house. I generally yell at Thing 1. You might think that I don't yell at Thing 2 because he is too little. And that might be part of it. But mostly I don't need to yell at Thing 2, he does what he is asked. He cleans up at clean up time. He eats his dinner. He plays with toys the way they were intended to be played with. Plus Thing 2 doesn't like the yelling. He is a very sensitive soul. Thing 1 on the other hand is wild. We are currently locked in a battle for ultimate control of the house. If I say it is time to clean up, he is running off to his room to climb up and hide in his bunk bed. When he plays with toys he will bend them just to see how far they can bend before they break. Dinner has been getting better, but as I mentioned earlier this week, Sunday night he refused to eat. I am okay with him refusing to eat. He had had a big lunch so I wasn't expecting much. But it was when he decided to launch his glass of milk across the room splashing on the table, floor and his brother that landed him in the corner for a time out. And of course I screamed bloody murder.

The thing about the yelling is that it kind of works. When we brought Thing 2 home from the hospital two days after Thing 1's second birthday. Back then, his behavior was an emotional tornado. But it was him having the fits. I didn't yell so much back then (we did some, just not as much as now). Time outs didn't really work, so we just let him cry until he was done. Three years old is different. He is now screwing with my head. The acting out is far more manipulative. He shouts "I don't love you!". But when I bellow at him it gets him moving. It lets him know I mean business. And don't think I jump to yelling. I ask him 5-6 times to do everything without yelling. Then I begin to raise my voice and count and finally he lands in time out with me yelling And it ALWAYS ends up in time out. In many cases he comes out of time out and I will ask him "are you ready to help clean up?" and he says "no". So we go back in time out again. Repeat questions and answers. After 3-4 time outs he does finally clean up. But the process is exhausting. One time a few weeks ago he simply refused to stay in time out. So every time he would leave I would pick him up and put him back and start the time out over. He cried and fought for 30 minutes straight. I put him back in time out 10-12 times until finally he sat for a consecutive 3 minutes. That's right, you read correctly, three minutes. I am not some crazy control freak who is putting her kids in time out for 30 minutes. He needs to just have one three minute time out.

But strangely enough, after we all end up screaming and maybe shedding a few tears, Thing 1 cooperates and does whatever he is asked. And then he perks up and is happy again. No amount of talking and rationalizing ever did that. I have had level-headed talks with him where I explain that acting out is his choice and that he can choose not to act out. And if he chooses to listen to Mommy and Daddy then he will have a happy day and there will be no fighting. I have explained to him that every time he gets a time out for not cooperating he inevitably ends up doing whatever it was that he was trying to get out of. So next time he should just skip the time out and help sooner. I know this is sophisticated thinking for a three year old, but it might take years for him to make that mental leap, I have to at least start talking about it. I want him to view his actions as his choice. I believe it will help him to live a more purposeful life.

I know I need to stop yelling. Monday morning I ran into my neighbor at the elevator of my building. She could barely look at me. I know she heard the whole row from the evening before. From next door she can hear everything, but she doesn't know that we had a great morning together. She doesn't know that I threw my back out and was in a lot of pain while Thing 1 was acting out. And she doesn't actually know that I don't hit my kids. But hearing all the yelling and screaming, she must feel uncomfortable about it.

My problem is I don't know how to stop yelling. I get so angry, particularly when I am home by myself with the kids. I do not keep things bottled up. On one hand it is a positive thing because I don't store dark emotions. I express myself and move on. Keeping anger bottled up can lead to all kinds of health problems and stress. DH and I fight every so often, and there are no secrets between us. And we always make up. We talk to the Things about it openly. There is no regret and no unspoken hurt, no name calling and no disrespect. But we are passionate people. DH and I have a healthy marriage because we get it all out. On the other hand, I know my anger can alienate people, like my neighbor.

People have told me to just stop yelling. That is so much easier said than done. People have told me to leave the room, give myself a time out. People have also told me to take a different approach, take away toys, dessert, TV. I have. It doesn't work. Thing 1 doesn't care. He doesn't seem to understand the correlation between choosing his actions and having a pleasing or displeasing outcome. And take away everything-it doesn't matter. With the TV off he will just do something else to provoke the drama. He doesn't care. I chalk it up to his age. I figure if we can get through the next 6 months we will be through the worst of it.

That being said, I recently held a family meeting. I can't do this anymore. I can't yell and get so angry any longer. All our behavior has to get better. Thing 1 needs to feed himself, not spill his food on purpose, not throw toys, not push and hit, take off his own coat and shoes and follow simple directions like helping at clean up time. I am NOT asking too much. But he is going to have to do more, and Mommy promises to yell less. So far we are off to a decent (and quiet) start.

I always love your comments, you know I do. But on today's topic I am so scared of what you have to say. I am scared you will think I am a monster who can't control her emotions. I asked a question on Mamapedia about Thing 1 just after his second birthday, and the first commenter suggested I take him to a behaviorist because HER daughter never displayed such barbaric behavior (okay, those were my words, not hers--but she did say that my kid should see a behaviorist and she did say that her daughter never ripped pages out of books or threw food on the ground). I am in the same breath frustrated by Thing 1 and yet fiercely defensive of him, because he is my boy. My child isn't bad, and he doesn't have ADHD. He is three, he is a boy and he is bright. And he chooses to channel all that extra energy into things that get him negative attention. I desperately want to add value to the situation. And I am taking the first step. I am writing about this today because I don't just want to sweep it under the rug.

But this is really, really hard.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Millet and Rice Flour Sugar Cookies

Think back over all the recipes I have posted in the last several months. There are not many desserts, right? I think I have been really realistic about my own sugar addiction (and that of my family) and so I have tried to eliminate sugar, in addition to replacing refined sugar with rapadura, honey or pure maple syrup. Because let's face it. Rapadura might be head and shoulders above refined white sugar, but don't over exaggerate. It is still sugar.

But every now and then you just gotta have a cookie. But I have noticed an alarming trend in my diet: My wheat sensitivity might be getting stronger. I had whole wheat pasta last Monday night and I made homemade pizza Tuesday. Plus I had a half a sandwich each day for lunch(among other veggies, etc) By Wednesday I could not even look at wheat I felt so strung out. I threw out the bread of my office catering sandwich (big meetings last week). I made meat and veggies for dinner. But no grains left me feeling a little hungry. My energy levels are better when I mix some grains in with my protein and veg.

Last month when the issues with Thing 1 began, i thought for sure that his problems stemmed from a wheat intolerance. I never once thought about lactose. So I ran out and bought quinoa pasta, gluten free bread and millet flour and brown rice flour. But the doctor said not to eliminate wheat until we take a thorough look at his current diet and do the blood work up. So we never ate any of it. Now I find myself pulling all these gluten free items out for me, not Thing 1.

And Wednesday when I was pulling meat out of my sandwich to throw away my bread, I wanted to die for a cookie. But I didn't dare. So I looked up gluten free cookie recipes online so i could indulge myself when I got home. And I found this recipe. I added in some millet flour and my beloved vanilla and came up with the below And I gotta say, for a first attempt I think this was really really good. Certainly tasted good.

Rice and Millet Flour Sugar Cookies

1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1 stick (4 oz) of unsalted butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup rapadura
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp of vanilla

Combined flours, soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in butter in small pats. Work the butter into the dry mix like you would a pie crust. In a small cup beat the egg and vanilla together. Pour the egg in the butter flour mix and combine to form a ball.

Next either make the cookies and chill, or chill the dough first and then make the cookies. I did the former, made to cookies and then put the sheets of tin foil in the fridge for about 20 minutes before baking. Place the chilled cookies in a 350 degree over for 8-12 minutes. I baked mine a little longer. They spread nicely.

The cookies have a very nice flavor and a tender texture. But they weren't perfect, the quest will continue. Their flavor was nice and vanilla-y, just like I like. So I would give flavor an A. The texture was good, almost a little chewy. But very soft since they are gluten free. However either the millet flour or the rice flour itself tasted a little raw and crunchy. You know, like under done rice... Which killed it for me. So Even though they had a chewy-tender thing going on, I would have to give the texture a C+. Okay maybe a B-. I want you to try this. But maybe try them with 1 and a half cups of rice flour and just omit the millet. I was just trying to get fancy because I had already bought the millet flour, and I know that it is high in iron and other nutrients.
All in all I would say they were a success! I really loved having a wheat free treat. And the overall experience of baking them and eating them didn't lack in anyway just because they were wheat free. A fellow gluten sensitive friend at work was shocked when I told her I made them. She said she had never thought of baking with some flour other than wheat. So at least I spread the word today. We all have other options! And of course my dearies remember, wine has always been naturally gluten-free.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Weekend Retrospective

The reason I do these weekend retrospective is because I have some funny stories about what we are eating. But I am not making a TON of new food these days. We have found some favorites and we are putting them in heavy rotation. But each experience of eating these foods can be enlightening and funny, and sometimes downright ridiculous. Some highlights from this weekend?

* DH picked up a crazy job this week. He didn't see the kids from Wednesday morning until Friday night, which also meant that I was essentially a single parent last week. Okay, that is insulting, I wasn't a single parent. But DH was working 15-18 hour days, and I was left with all the parenting duties in addition to working. Friday night was a blur of reheated pizza, both homemade and the kind I hate to admit I still have in the house. Our babysitter brought the kids to the pizza store (as we call it in our house) on Friday for lunch, but they didn't eat it for lunch. I am normally opposed to serving the same thing for lunch as dinner for the kids. While I might do it for myself on occasion, I think the kids don't do so well with so much repetition. But by Friday night I was stupid tired, so pizza made a double play in my house.

* Saturday morning I slept in (thanks DH!!) But we still made it to the Farmer's Market. I am down to getting turkey, milk, apples, cheese, yogurt, eggs and sometimes honey and bee pollen from the FM. There is so little left at the farmer's market. But I know that if I can just make it through another 8 or so weeks we will start to see spinach an ramps and all the lovely harbingers of spring.

* Thing 1 didn't nap at all this weekend. But he did help me make a batch of granola on Saturday. He tasted everything from the vanilla to the nuts to the flaxseed (which he did not care for). I actually couldn't find old fashioned oats at Fairway this weekend. So I used a combo of last month's old fashioned oats and some quick cooking steel cut oats. I can't wait to try some this week!! It looks totally different!

* Saturday and Sunday got so mixed up. DH was supposed to work Saturday. Then Sunday we were supposed to have friends over. Then DH ended up working Sunday instead and our friends called and said they couldn't do Sunday. So at the last second our friends came over Saturday night. But what a lovely evening. I made Beef Goulash out of a chuck roast that has been hanging out frozen since the last time I ordered meat from the farm. Beef Goulash really is just like my beef stew recipe with a couple tablespoons of paprika added to it. It was really nice. And it goes nicely with whole wheat noodles.

* Sunday DH did actually work and so I took the Things to the NYC Transit museum. If you live here and you have never been, you HAVE to go. And if you have kids. You have to go TOMORROW. It was a really great time. But Brooklyn Heights is practically a food desert. I brought snacks, but I had visions of cute diners or places to grab brunch, so while I packed snacks, I didn't pack a full lunch. Meanwhile, the only places to get food were McDonald's and Wendy's. I almost braved the hour long subway ride home to make something on home turf. But finally I found a place. I will write about that later this week.

* Apparently you can make a decent spaghetti sauce from scratch while using pork 'breakfast' sausage.

* I roasted a whole chicken on Sunday evening. And there was no one home to help me clean up. That was a mistake. Thing 2 ate some chicken minced up and mashed into his potatoes and gravy. The meal was very delicious. Thing 1 wanted only to eat the chicken skin, which is a relatively new development. I told him that I would give him more skin from my breast if he would just eat some meat first. To this he swiped at his plate sending it flying across the table and just to reinforce how yucky he felt my dinner was, he swiped at his glass of milk, sending it flying across the table too. And also all over the floor. *Sigh* This bird was perfectly cooked, golden brown and amazingly delicious. The gravy was immaculately thick and not too salty. Yet Thing 1 ate the skin off one drumstick and Thing 2 at precisely 1 ounce of meat. Oh well. I will have chicken for all my salads this week. And I will make a wicked Chicken soup. Still, it seems like a waste of a perfectly pastured fowl...

* I am pretty sure that I threw my back out Sunday afternoon. I was bouncing Thing 2 on my hip and all of a sudden my back started to feel kind of short. The rest of the evening I continued to struggle with pain. I found I could not bend at the waist or lift with anything heavy in my hands. Putting the kids to bed was humorous, I literally sat Thing 2 in the crib rather than wait and cuddle him to sleep. Thing 1 was so mad at me that I couldn't sit in his room and wait for him to fall asleep. I usually sit on the floor by the door while he falls asleep, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get back up!! I medicated myself with beer and Advil, which actually made me feel a little better. But I was really lucky I took the Advil. Because after two beers I almost took a stool softener and then when I did locate the Advil I almost took a double dose. Thank God, right!! It's okay. My trials should make you feel good about yourself as a person and a parent. At least now my back is feeling a little better.

Overall, I am really happy with this weekend. We ate well, had lots of playdates, and visited new places. A good time was had by all. Next weekend we pick up our Lewis-Waite Farm Meat and the last Winter CSA share!! I can't wait to see what we could possibly get during hungry month.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sad, Sad Winter Market

Even though we have been gripped with ice and snow, New York City manages to trudge through. Public transportation groans but still runs. Shops open and the public buys. I don't know what I'll do when my kids are older and are in school full time. The NYC public school system does shut down a couple times a year, but my office? Never. And the corporate expectation is that you make it to work. So I guess if I couldn't take off or DH couldn't stay home they will come to work with me. Snow days don't stop a New Yorker.

Last week we got 19 inches of snow in one long day. Only some of that was cleared before we got the freezing rain this week. It snowed and rained ice for two days this week and not all the big black piles of last weeks snow have a smooth shiny coating of ice on them. These piles are gonna be here until April I swear it. I can't decide what I want gone first, the mounds of dirty snow or all the garbage that hasn't been picked up.

The winter greatly diminishes the Greenmarket. And Green isn't really the right word. There ain't nothing green being sold now. Well, I should take that back, there are a couple of greenhouses. But February really is a hungry month covered in ice and arctic swirls. Though on a hopeful note, I left work last week and it was still light outside at 5PM.

This week at the Union Square Farmer's Market I saw apples and eggs and cider and some turnips and rutabagas. That was it. Oh, and some cookies. But I wasn't really going to count them. That was Wednesday. Likely their Friday or Saturday offering will be better, but nothing like the high season. I believe I see 6 or 7 stalls in these two pictures. In the summertime the vendors will be packed in all the way from Union Square West to Fourth Avenue and 17th street all the way to 15th street. But it is quiet and wet in the winter.

Oh how I long for the days flat strappy sandals, long jersey dresses and sunglasses. I dream in tomatoes and peaches and eggplants. If I am quiet enough I swear I can hear the surf roll in at Hither Hills. Soon, soon. Until then, eggs and rutabagas and snow. I will keep walking in the park searching for that first crocus flower poking up through the crunchy iced over snow.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Call from the Doctor

A few weeks ago I took Thing 1 to the doctor. Our babysitter swore to me that he was having stomach troubles, complaining about hi tummy hurting and laying down on the floor. Never mind that when I asked him about it he would deny the whole thing. Or that he never displays that kind of behavior with us on the weekends. My concern was that he was acting out for her. He is at an age where lying is a seductive cocktail. But, I had to take it seriously because our trusted babysitter has been saying this on and off for a while now. And although we have never had any other health issues with Thing 1, I can't just ignore it.

So our pediatrician recommended a group of blood tests, including a basic allergy work up. She also had us keep a thorough record of Thing 1's diet in case it was allergy related. I must say I was proud to hear that she felt that his diet was very good. (Yay!! I am such a nerd.) But she did feel his tummy and thought he had some gas. She did say that we eat more fiber than the average person and that could contribute to gas. And we all felt that that may be the reason for him complaining of stomach pains. The doctor also suggested that we not give him milk before lunchtime.

So for the last couple of weeks it has been no dairy in the morning. He cries for milk everyday, but it has gotten a little better. And he has complained of tummy aches less. I think the milk is definitely part of it. And to clarify, even though I love where we get our milk from, Thing 1 was only getting about 3-4 ounces of milk every day with his meals, only 10-12 ounces a day! My kids have always loved milk so much that overloading them with such a foodlike beverage would surely mean no real food would be eaten. But with less milk, he is eating more food. Also, he is a little more regular. I hate to embarrass him, since it is likely that he will read these posts at some point in his life. But Thing 1 has struggled with being a little overly regular. Reducing the dairy has helped him to feel a little more normal.

But then finally, the doctor called and told me the results of all that blood work. She had his liver, kidney and other organ functions checked. All is good. She checked for general infections, all was good. Lead levels were right where they should be (kids in my neighborhood tend to have higher lead levels, it is thought because the buildings are older and possibly not kept up as well). And the allergies, milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, etc all came back negative. Which she said could happen because the blood work tests for allergy, not sensitivity. He could still have a sensitivity and some minor reaction without having a full blown allergy. Hence the recommendation to limit the milk.

And finally she told me that she had his Vitamin D levels checked. And she said that his level was very good, one of the highest that she has seen at 35 ng/ml (almost 90 nmol/L). I was thrilled to hear that. Because you know that Vitamin D is a big deal. It is an important vitamin in keeping healthy against the common winter viruses, but also at warding off larger inflammations like cancer. I don't give my kids vitamins. Our expensive grass-fed-organic-low-temperature-pasteurization-non-homogenized-whole milk (sorry, it sounds pretentious when I say it, but it looks even more pretentious written out) does not have added D3. And now that it is cold outside, they aren't spending alot of time in the sun.

So how are we getting Vitamin D? It has to be all the grass fed meat (and the long, complicated and expensive sounding milk is grass fed too). We might not be outside, but the cows are, so their meat and milk have it. And because we eat a diet rich in healthy fats both saturated and unsaturated, I know we are able to better absorb the D that we get. Grass-Fed makes a difference. The animals are healthier, and so are we for embracing it.

This post is entered in Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cop-Out Wednesday: Taco Bell Fights Back

(I changed the name of the post, because the whole 'public doesn't care' bit sounded like the public was furious. When actually, they are still happily ingesting Taco Bell's lousy fare. Sorry if your RSS feed doesn't pick up the change.)

I took a very interesting class my last year in college. It was all about the Boxer Rebellion, which you may or may not know was an uprising in China by Nationalist leaning Chinese against both Western politics and Western spheres of influence but also against Westerners living in China at the time. But the class wasn't just about the history of the Boxer Rebellion. It was really about how to study the Boxer Rebellion. It was a close look at the reports of how different newspapers across the globe covered one incident. We studied the difference between primary and secondary sources. It was a fascinating class. I don't remember a ton about the Boxer Rebellion, but I started to understand what a respectable source of news was and how to read through the lines in what to believe. I like to think that the sources that I bring to this blog are those that are trustworthy and largely unbiased. You can't believe everything on the Internet. But I also believe that some mainstream sources of news are slanted to the conventional thinking, both politically and nutritionally. Because you know I am concerned about food. So in answering my myriad questions, I must wade through alot of information to get an unbiased story that is also full of facts.

That being said, I have read several different reports about this Taco Bell Scandal. Some more opinion based blogs I read were outraged because the lawsuit seemed frivolous. Other blogs (like mine) were outraged because they felt that the lack of beef in the beef was disgusting, a nutritional outrage. But major newspapers stuck to the fact in the original story, however in this second wave, the story is really about Taco Bell and how it has come out shining by drowning the marketplace in ads. I have seen them everywhere on the television. These stories sound to me like they were almost planted by the company itself. And it is likely that the Yum Industries PR team has been working 18 hour days for the last 10 days or so.

Taco Bell alleges that it's ground beef is 88% beef, and that the remaining 12% is water, spices, and some filler like oats and wheat. That is actually more in line with what I assumed, since I haven't eaten the stuff in 10 years or so. Still, I have to point out that neither the Alabama law firm nor Taco Bell itself have published proof of whether the ground beef is 35% beef or 88% beef. And this Mama does not go by word of mouth. I may not be from Missouri, but my Dad is-so I need proof. Show me.

I guess we will just have to wait to read about the court case. In the meantime, eat real food. It tastes better.

Taco Bell's Official Statement: Of Course We Use Real Beef

Taco Bell's Website: Taco Bell Official Ingredient List Apparently The 'Oats and Wheat" contribute to the seasoning part of the 'Seasoned Ground Beef', who knew? It sounds more like filler to me. Also, check out how many ingredients 'Steak" has.

New York Post: Taco Bell Fights Back on Beef Lawsuit With Ad Push

USA Today: Taco Bell Fights Beef Charges With Truth Ads, May Countersue This was one of the few articles I read that mentioned that the brand might file a suit of it's own. Got a Beef with Taco Bell's 'Beef' Taco Filling? This is What Really Hides Inside Taco Bell's Beef This site gives the USDA definition of Ground Beef

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shepard's Pie

Shepard's Pie is probably not a proper title for this dish as 'shepard' implies sheep, and my dish had no lamb or mutton in it. But I do think that the basic idea of a gravy rich meat and veggie pie topped with mashed tubers is a good one. Be it lamb or beef or pork and any of those made into a loose sausage, it is a good comforting meal. I am not sure this is a good weeknight meal on my schedule. I made it Saturday and it took about an hour to get right.

First let me say that I have made several really bad Shepard Pies in my day. Either the seasonings weren't right, or they were too runny and not viscous enough. There is a perfect balance that must be met in the gravy to meat ratio. And often my potatoes are not soft enough, and they dry out when I would bake the pie. But at least once a year I would come back to it and try all over again. After this weekend it might show up a little more often.

If you have ever ordered Shepard's Pie at a proper pub it is usually a slightly runny mess of ground beef with a couple of frozen cubed carrots covered with really buttery mashed white potatoes. But it is possible to make this comfort classic a little more nutritious. And lastly, the idea to top the meat with sweet potatoes or yams came from our dear friends in Morocco who made this for us the first very jetlagged day we arrived last November.

1 pound of ground meat, beef, lamb, turkey, pork or any kind of sausage will do (I used a half a pound of ground beef and a half a pound of turkey sausage)
About a cup to a cup and a half of veggies, I used fresh carrots and frozen peas and corn
Sweet potatoes, I used one enormous one
Milk and Butter to make the mashed potatoes
1 cup Water for the gravy
Worcestershire sauce
Arrowroot Powder

First, put on the sweet potatoes to boil. Also set the oven to 350.

In a skillet with a lid, brown the meat. Add your veggies, water or stock and Worcestershire and cover until the carrots are cooked through. Adjust your seasonings with salt and pepper or more Worcestershire. Sprinkle in a little arrowroot powder and see how thick it gets. Add a little more until the gravy gets to the thickness you like.

Make the mashed sweet potatoes with the milk and butter (or no milk to make it lactose free). Then take the meat mix and place it into an oven safe dish. Top with the Sweet Potatoes and bake. I suppose you don't really NEED to bake it. You could just eat it as is. But something kind of magical happens in the oven. The gravy bubbles over into the sweet potatoes. The whole things kind of melds together.

The Things did NOT eat this meal. Thing 1 did not even take one bite. Thing 2 picked out the larger pieces of turkey sausage. But that was it. I think it was because it was a new dish. Perhaps next time it won't be so foreign. But DH sat up and begged. He was thrilled. A real pub meal at home? Very comforting in the cold weather.